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See NASA's Perseverance rover make its first big moves on Mars

The robot is officially the fastest on the red planet.

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Perseverance has laid down its first tracks on Mars. 

NASA/JPL-CalTech

NASA's Mars 2020 Perseverance rover is on a roll, for the first time ever. In its first tentative steps on the red planet, the truck-size robot rolled forward from its landing spot 13 feet (4 meters), then turned in place 150 degrees to the left, backed up 8 feet (2.5 meters) and took the above image of its tracks in the Martian surface.

All six of the rover's wheels are powered, technically making it a six-wheel-drive vehicle. It has a top speed of one one-hundredth of one mile per hour (.016 kilometers per hour). Shockingly, this makes it a hot rod among Mars rovers.

"We can really drive five times faster than Curiosity: 200 meters (656 feet) per (Martian day)," Perseverance mobility test bed engineer Anais Zarifian told reporters Friday, explaining that the rover's navigation system processes images from its cameras faster.

"It's able to think while driving."

Perseverance made its daring landing in Mars' Jezero Crater on Feb. 18. On Friday, NASA also announced that the exact landing site has a new official title: the Octavia E. Butler Landing Site, named for the influential science fiction author who was also a resident of Pasadena, California, where Perseverance mission control is centered.

"Butler's protagonists embody determination and inventiveness, making her a perfect fit for the Perseverance rover mission and its theme of overcoming challenges," said Kathryn Stack Morgan, deputy project scientist for Perseverance. "Butler inspired and influenced the planetary science community and many beyond, including those typically under-represented in STEM fields."

In its first few weeks on Mars, Perseverance has seen some other landmark moments, including the first successful manipulation of its robotic arm, which was captured in a series of images.

A montage of images from Perseverance flexing its robotic arm.

NASA/JPL-CalTech

Deputy mission manager Robert Hogg reports that the rover's wind sensor has also been successfully deployed and it has downloaded and installed a 16 MB software update that will manage 140 tasks running simultaneously on its computer.

"Kinda like getting an update to your electric car's software," Hogg said.

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A view of the delta in Jezero crater. The mound in the distance is over a mile from the rover.

NASA/JPL-CalTech

Up next, Perseverance will continue to test and calibrate tools it will use to look for signs of ancient life and make oxygen from the Martian atmosphere, among other science goals. It will also begin to take longer drives and prepare for the experimental flight test program of Ingenuity, the tiny helicopter it brought along for the ride.

The Perseverance team has already begun to map out possible routes for the rover to explore the ancient river delta that is thought to have once flowed into Jezero Crater.

The next update will be held Wednesday, March 10.

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A road map for Perseverance's possible route on the Martian surface.

NASA/JPL-CalTech

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